Exciting new work by Adelaide researchers may dramatically reduce the incidence of premature birth and help many more mums carry their babies to full term.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Institute have been working on pregnant mice using the drug plus-naloxone.
Plus-naloxone switches off inflammatory pathways and in the tested mice it completely halted all premature birth as well as having other amazing benefits.
“Not only did we prevent them being born too soon, we prevented stillbirth and the foetal growth restriction that would otherwise have occurred,” Institute director, Professor Sarah Robertson told the ABC.
There are high hopes that this research could be a complete game-changer, possibly some day preventing stillbirth, premature birth and low birthweight in human babies.
In 2011, 8.3 per cent of Australian babies were born early (before 37 completed weeks of gestation) and 6.3 per cent of babies were of low birthweight so there is much room for improvement.
An ‘inflammatory cascade’ triggers premature birth in humans, the ABC reports.
Factors such as bacterial infection, damage to the placenta, carrying multiple babies, environmental toxins and physical injury can cause a pregnant mum’s immune system to respond in ways that make full-term pregnancy impossible.
“Our studies give us some encouragement that it may be possible to prevent many pre-term births, by using drugs that target the body’s inflammatory mechanisms, probably in combination with antibiotics as well,” Professor Robertson explains.
Mice today, mums tomorrow
While testing on mice is a long way from testing on pregnant women, plus-naloxone has already been used to treat infections in humans. This means that these inflammation-fighting drugs may be considered during pregnancy sooner rather than later.
“Prospects for bringing them to human use are close but it will be several years I guess before we can have the confidence to test them in women who are pregnant,” Professor Robertson told the ABC.
The team’s findings have recently been published in the Scientific Reports journal.